New Caledonia Decides in a Referendum Whether it Wants independence from France

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(— October 3, 2020) —  Voters in New Caledonia, France’s overseas territory in the South Pacific, will decide in a referendum on Sunday whether they want independence from France, the Guardian reports.

Voting is key to determining the future of the archipelago and its 270,000 inhabitants, including the native Kanaka and descendants of European colonizers.

The vote has long been planned and focuses on local issues but it comes at a time when the legacy of colonialism is under new global scrutiny, following protests in recent months against racial injustice inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.

More than 180,000 voters need to answer the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?”

Two years ago, 56.4 percent of voters in a similar referendum decided to maintain ties with Paris, instead of supporting independence.

Both referendums are the last steps in a long process that began 30 years ago, after years of violence by activists who were seeking independence against those who want to stay in France.

A peace agreement between rival factions was reached in 1988, and a decade later, with the agreement in Noumea, New Caledonia was granted broad autonomy.

If voters opt for independence on Sunday, an indefinite transition period will begin so the archipelago can prepare for its future status. Otherwise, New Caledonia will remain a French territory and thus still be part of the EU.

Independence activists want all sovereign powers – the judiciary, police, army, currency, and foreign relations – to be transferred from France to New Caledonia, while for supporters of the “no” answer, breaking ties with France is simply not an option.

New Caledonia is a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific. It’s known for its palm-lined beaches and marine-life-rich lagoon, which, at 24,000-sq.-km, is among the world’s largest natural preserves.

A massive barrier reef surrounds the main island, Grand Terre, a major scuba-diving destination. The capital, Nouméa, is home to French-influenced restaurants and luxury boutiques selling Parisian fashions.